Cancer Amongst Women: Signs and Symptoms
By: Elias Azizi, Contributing Writer
Diseases have ravaged mankind and other living things for billions of years.. From Leprosy, which has existed for thousands of years, to COVID-19, which is relatively new, diseases have been a major issue. Some are extremely deadly and hard to treat, whereas others are quite mild like the flu and can be treated with light medication. Luckily, most serious viral diseases like smallpox have been eradicated and no longer spread. However, there is one disease that humans currently can’t find a cure for - cancer.
Cancer is a disease that happens when cells that are supposed to die continue to divide uncontrollably. Cells that are meant to die are ones that have abnormal DNA or have extensive damage beyond repair. The division of these abnormal cells creates lumps of mass called tumours which are sometimes benign (cancer less), or malignant (cancerous). Cancer can appear in practically any part of the body; all it takes for cancer to grow is one abnormal cell. There are some cancers that only affect women and not men (biologically). Cancers that only affect women are the ones that appear in female organs and body parts, like ovaries. It is important for women, in particular, to understand the signs and symptoms of these types of cancer in order to be able to detect it. Early detection of cancer drastically increases the survival rate.
Description: Breast cancer is simply cancer that forms in the breasts. It can be caused by abnormal cells in the breasts or by cancer cells that have spread from other body parts. Yes, breast cancer can form in men; 1 in every 100 breast cancer cases are amongst men, but the majority of breast cancer cases are amongst women. In the United States, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in women. Breast cancer can be inherited; 5-10 percent of breast cancers are linked with genes.
Signs and symptoms: Any change in breast structure may be a sign of breast cancer. Not to mention, one should immediately book an appointment with a physician if they notice a lump or a mass on their breasts. Other symptoms of breast cancer are redness of the skin, an inverted nipple, and flaking or crusting of the skin around the breast. Quick self-checks for possible breast cancer symptoms can be done at home. A video like this one covers the essential movements used to detect symptoms like lumps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkPR4ar1EQ4.
Description: Ovarian cancer is cancer that forms in the ovaries. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They produce eggs that are needed for pregnancy and also secrete hormones like estrogen, which are vital to the female body’s function. This type of cancer only appears in biological women as the female reproductive system only appears naturally in their bodies. Compared to other cancers, Ovarian cancer is very hard to detect due to where it appears in. The ovaries are not exposed outside of the body like breasts, so any tumour will likely not be detected without the help of CT scans. Ovarian cancer also tends to appear most in older women aged 50-60.
Signs and symptoms: Some symptoms of ovarian cancer are abdominal swelling, weight loss, frequent urination and discomfort in the pelvic area which is the lower part of one’s stomach. One should have an appointment with a physician if they have any of these symptoms. Since many of these symptoms appear in other medical conditions, regardless of age, it is always good to get symptoms checked out by a physician in a timely manner.
Description: Endometrial cancer is cancer that forms in the walls of the uterus. The uterus is the part of the female body where fetuses develop during pregnancy. Endometrial cancer is one of many cancers that may form in the uterus and it is the most common one. It’s also very common amongst women aged 60 years and above. This cancer is very uncommon in women that are younger than 45 years. In the U.S., endometrial cancer is more common amongst white women, but it is more deadly amongst black women due to financial inequality.
Signs and symptoms: This cancer is usually detected at early stages due to its fast-acting symptoms. The most common endometrial cancer symptom is vaginal bleeding that doesn’t normally occur during menstrual cycles. Other symptoms of endometrial cancer are pain in the pelvic area and frequent bleeding between period dates. One should seek medical attention if any of these symptoms appear frequently and consistently. Similar to other cancers, endometrial cancer can be hereditary. However, for the most part, the major causes of endometrial cancer are undetermined.
When it comes to cancers, there are various treatment methods that are used accordingly. The use of certain treatments depends on factors like the cancer stage (I/II/III/IV), its location, and its aggressiveness (rate of spread). For breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer, the methods used for treatment tend to be quite similar.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is essentially using chemicals to kill the cancer cells in one’s body. It is usually used when cancer becomes more severe in its later stages. Chemotherapy patients tend to take one or multiple drugs either orally (pill) or intravenously (veins). The chemicals in these drugs flow around the body through the bloodstream and kill any malicious cancer cells.
Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a drug-based treatment that is used to reinforce the immune system. The immune system is strengthened in order for it to be able to fight cancer cells more effectively. Remember, the immune system is responsible for combatting any foreign body (pathogens and antigens) that may cause infections or disease. This treatment is also used when cancer becomes severe, but is also commonly used to treat less developed cancer.
Surgery: The use of surgery varies depending on severity. In extensive endometrial cancer, the whole uterus is removed, as well as other parts of the reproductive system like the ovaries. This makes it impossible for one to become pregnant again. For a less developed breast cancer, the surgery may simply be the removal of a developing tumour that formed in the breast. As well, sometimes, people who are predisposed to have breast cancer may decide to have mastectomies (removal of breast(s)) to decrease their chances of developing it. Surgery for more developed cancers tend to be more risky and impactful in comparison to surgery for less developed cancer. Surgery should either be used if other treatments are ineffective, or if the cancer is localized (stays in one spot).
Evidently, cancer is a disease that most fear due to its versatility and aggressiveness. Therefore, it’s very important for women, as well as everyone else to understand the signs and symptoms of cancers. To be safe, one should regularly visit their physicians to get checkups and tests for cancer and other diseases. Although cancer may not be eradicated from the Earth like smallpox, it can still be treated quite well with a variety of methods. If one discovers that they have cancer, they should not fear, as there are multiple methods that can best suit them. Every year, scientists learn more and more details about diseases like cancer that can help them create more effective treatments and possible cures. Cancer’s complexity and ability to spread is troublesome, but someday, an efficient treatment method will likely be found, and millions of lives will be saved.